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Durban - Dog owners in KwaZulu-Natal have been urged to lock their gates as dogs are again disappearing, possibly stolen for use in dog fighting rings in the province and across the border.
Mariette Hopley, a consultant for Global Animal Welfare, said the province was now a hotspot for the export of dogs to Angola. Many of those exported were for fighting while others were for security at diamond mines. In 2012, 43 dogs were rescued in Durban and three people arrested for illegally shipping dogs to Angola.
Boerboels, huskies, rottweilers and the “odd pit bull” or bull dog-type breed were commonly used for fighting while German Shepherds were popular guard dogs, she said.
“Of the dogs exported from KZN, about 65 percent are stolen. The rest are ordered from backyard breeders,” Hopley said.
A rottweiler puppy could fetch up to R20 000.
“Sometimes photographs are taken of dogs in people’s yards and sent to those wanting them. Payment is then made before the dogs are stolen.”
Often children and teenagers were recruited to steal the dogs.
Judi Gibson, the general manager of the Animal Anti-Cruelty League in Durban, said the dog fighting community in KZN was “very closed” and involved “powerful” people and lots of money.
“It is a very dangerous clique, and unless you confront them with the police, you are taking your life in your hands.”
The times and places for these fights were unknown as the “sport” was “so underground”. But Gibson confirmed that more dogs were “disappearing”.
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA) said pit bulls were the “South African choice” of fighting dogs and that in KZN the sport was popular in Durban and Pietermaritzburg.
“Professionals usually operate nationally and internationally and are widely known. The rings are similar to drug cartels… Dog fighting is also often linked to other violent crime,” an NSPCA spokeswoman said.
“The best way to avoid a dog being stolen is having them neutered.”
Jeanette Erasmus, president of the Pit Bull Federation of South Africa, said Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and KZN were problematic.
“We are seeing more dogs being stolen… Those involved in fighting communicate in secret groups and chat groups,” she said.
Kevin Prince of the KZN Pit Bull Club said they were working with the SPCA to root out the dog fighting rings.
“It is quite bad here in KZN. We do hear of people’s dogs getting stolen. The younger kids are stealing pit bulls. We hear that it happens in Wentworth and Chatsworth.”
Neeri Naidoo from Phoenix Animal Care and Treatment confirmed that fighting was happening in Wentworth and Phoenix.
Esmé Nathanson, who heads the Pet Detective Service at Brad Nathanson Investigations, said for every five dogs that went missing or were stolen, only one was reunited with its owner.
Dogs mainly “disappeared” during the day while people were at work.
“The owners say that when they arrive home their gates are open and the dogs are gone”.
Queensburgh resident Allison Hardwich reported her dogs missing, presumed stolen.
Her young brindle and white bull terrier, Hanson, disappeared on August 29.
“Our dogs sleep inside but they have a doggy door they can get out of.
“When we woke up (one) was gone. And there is no way he could have left our property unaided,” a still-emotional Hardwich said.